Battle to save remains of 400-year-old wreck

Unidentified ship that sank off the Dorset coast around 1600 is most important discovery since the 'Mary Rose'

A 17th-century shipwreck described as the "biggest discovery since the Mary Rose" is rotting so rapidly that it could disappear within five years.

The remains of the ship, known simply as the Swash Channel Wreck, were preserved for centuries under the seabed in six metres of water off the Dorset coast. But now its ornately carved timbers, the earliest still in existence in Britain, are literally being eaten away.

The sand that protected it has been shifted by changing currents and tides, leaving the 40m vessel's timbers exposed to bacteria and the tunnelling of aquatic shipworms. Tests on the timbers and artefacts trace the ship's history back to Europe in the early 1600s, where it was probably engaged in the beginnings of international trade with the Far East.

A Bournemouth University marine archaeology team has been studying the wreck since 2006. But they are now so concerned at its deterioration that they have decided to raise and preserve part of the hull next month .

David Parham, senior lecturer in marine archaeology at the university, said: "The damage there has increased dramatically since we first started studying it. It's a race – you've only got a certain amount of time before it's too late and there's no point.

"It's been buried until now, but in the last four or five years it's become exposed. The longer the wreck is exposed, the more damaged it will be. If nothing were done within the next five years there'd be nothing left."

The easiest and most effective way to preserve the ship would be to rebury it, but this is not an option for the whole vessel, as it would create a hump on the seabed in a crucial shipping channel. Instead, scientists plan to pull out those sections of the ship that would be in the way and rebury the rest.

The main piece to be raised will be six metres of the hull from the bow backwards. These timbers, once recovered, will go on display in Poole Museum.

Despite much scouring of historical records, the ship's identity remains unknown. "We've got no historical information," Dr Parham said,"so that's a complete mystery. But the timber dendrochronology has given us a date and an indication that it came from the German-Dutch border.

The effort to save the wreck features in a new BBC2 series called Britain's Secret Seas, which starts tonight. Producer Paul Olding said: "We filmed them doing excavation work last summer. It was fascinating. It's the biggest discovery since the Mary Rose and it's really ornate."

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Secondary teachers needed for supply roles in Sudbury

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

Head of Technology

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Technology needed for a Outsta...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits